Popular Lima Shore Excursions
Central Lima: Make sure to visit the 117-block UNESCO district, which Pizarro designed to be built, block-by-block, like a chessboard of squares, featuring 400-foot-long blocks with 40-foot-wide streets. Start at the impressive Plaza Mayor, surrounded by Lima Cathedral, the Archbishop's Palace, City Hall, Government Palace and the Club of the Union (a favorite lunch spot for politicians and business people). In the mid-90's, the mayor of Lima started an Adopt a Balcony program to save, restore and rebuild hundreds of balconies. Although the process is still underway, you can find some of the most beautiful balconies on a mid-16th century home known as Casa del Odior (just off the Plaza Mayor) and the Archbishop's Palace. The palace is connected to the Baroque-style Lima Cathedral, where a small side chapel has the tomb of Pizarro.
The gem of Central Lima is the 17th-century San Francisco Monastery and Church, a few blocks from Plaza Mayor at the corner of Jr. Ancash and Jr. Lampa. The monastery has a serene courtyard and 17th-century library with 25,000 volumes and 6,000 parchments. Beneath the church, catacombs (discovered in 1951) contain the bones of 70,000 people, sorted by body part -- skulls, femurs, etc. Tours of historic Lima also take in Lima's grandest European-style square, Plaza San Martin. (Editor's note: The easiest and safest way to see some of the city's original homes and government buildings around the Plaza Mayor is to take a guided excursion.)
Miraflores: One of the best residential neighborhoods with a fair share of shops and restaurants, Miraflores is also a great place for getting around on foot. From Parque Kennedy, you can walk to the craft markets on Avenida Thouars, and take a 20-minute stroll down Avenida Larco to the Pacific Ocean. When you reach the end of Larco, cross over to the malecon, and take the stairs down to the cliffside Larcomar shopping center. In the center of Miraflores, surrounded by residences, you'll find what's probably Lima's oldest and most surprising site, the mud-brick fourth-century pyramid ruins of Huaca Pucllana, built by the Lima culture 900 years before the Incas constructed Machu Picchu.
Rafael Larco Herrera Museum: If you only have time for one museum, book an excursion to the Rafael Larco Herrera Museum, located in an 18th-century mansion, built over a pre-Columbian pyramid. The Larco has one of the world's largest collections of pre-Columbian art and is most well-known for its 45,000-piece compilation of erotic pre-Columbian pottery -- so much they don't have space to exhibit all of it. But, after seeing the main collections, you can wander through storerooms of amazing pottery stashed in floor-to-ceiling glass cases. Afterward, get a bite at Cafe del Museo, whose menu was created by Gaston Acurio.
Museum of Peruvian Gold: Many cruise lines offer excursions to the Museum of Peruvian Gold, located about 20 to 25 minutes from Miraflores in the residential neighborhood of Monterricco. The private collection contains gold artifacts from pre-Columbian times to more recent centuries and includes jewelry, funerary masks, sacrificial knives, swords and statuary discovered at archaeological sites around Peru. Years ago, a scandal surfaced at the museum -- the gold collection included a considerable number of fakes. Even though those have been removed, the museum is still packed with golden treasures that are the real deal, representing Peru's many pre-Hispanic cultures.
Shopping: While there are handicraft markets with dozens of sellers on Avenida Petit Thouars in Miraflores, and, in San Isidro, some high-end boutiques on Miguel Dasso and shops of local designers along 12 blocks of Avenida Conquistadores, some of Lima's most stylish boutiques are scattered about in residential areas, often hidden away behind unmarked doors. Case in point: For exquisite jewelry, visit Anna Dannon (Alvarez Calderon 130 #2 in San Isidro; 421 2039) and Lorena Pestana (Calle General Borgono 770, Miraflores; 446 4033). In Barranco, there are two wonderful stores inside old mansions: Mari Solari's stunning craft boutique is called Las Pallas (Calle Jajamarca 212; 477-4629), but there's no sign outside; the same goes for Dedalo (Paseo Saenz Pena 295; 477-0562), hands-down one of most interesting stores for accessories, eclectic fashion, objets d'art, things for the home and wooden toys -- each room of the home has a theme. When you're done shopping, there's a lovely terrace in the back for cappuccino drinks, cookies, wine, tasty sandwiches, pasta and salads.
Barranco: On the southern end of the bay, Barranco's wide, leafy streets, lined by graceful colonial mansions, recall its reign as the summer playground for aristocrats in the 19th century. Renovation is bringing color and style back to this bohemian zone that's now known for great nightlife, a few art galleries and two of Lima's most interesting shops (see shopping section above). It's home to artists and writers, including famed novelist Mario Vargas Llosa. Make sure to walk over the Bridge of Sighs, which spans a bougainvillea-lined walkway that ends at a lookout spot above the sea -- there's a myth that first-timers who hold their breath while crossing this bridge will be granted a wish.
Pachacamac: About 20 miles south of Lima in the Lurin Valley, Pachacamac, a coastal archaeological site, dates back to the Wari culture (200 to 600 A.D.). The Waris left their fish frescoes, pyramids (only a few of the 17 identified have been excavated thus far) and temple to the god Pachacamac, but much later, the Incas arrived and built a second Temple of the Sun (the other being at Machu Picchu).
Caral: If you've got an overnight in port or are doing a pre- or post-cruise stay in Lima, consider a day-trip to see the 4,700-year-old ruins of Caral (130 miles northeast of Lima), a 165-acre site where adobe-brick pyramids, circular plazas and amphitheaters are still being excavated. The largest pyramid stands 60 feet in height and has a 500-square-foot base. Caral's official English-speaking guides share fascinating details on the findings and explain why this civilization is important beyond its age. Just last June, Caral was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Because this is an all-day outing (a 3 to 3.5-hour drive from the pier in Callao to Caral), it's best to sign up for an organized tour, whether independent or ship-sponsored.